Wednesday 21 June 2023

IFF Rotterdam: New Managing Director Appointed

International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) has appointed Clare Stewart to the post of Managing Director, taking over from outgoing Managing Director Marjan van der Haar. Most recently Interim CEO at Sheffield DocFest, Clare steered the 2022 edition of that festival and worked with the Board of Trustees to recruit its new leadership. Clare commences in the role at IFFR today. Korrie Louwes, Chairperson of the Supervisory Board, said: “Clare has an unparalleled breadth of experience in strategically directing and truly championing festivals—with a track record including some of the foremost celebrations of cinema in the world”.

Clare Stewart added: “IFFR is a world-leading institution that creates meaningful, global impact for independent film and filmmakers, and it is also dear to my heart as the first international film festival I attended 25 years ago. It shaped my understanding of the interdependencies between cultural activity and industry development, and the importance of engaging a dedicated local audience while positioning a festival as vital for the international, independent film sector. Rotterdam is a city renowned for innovation, experimentation and discovery—characteristics that IFFR already champions through its artistic and industry programmes”.

Vanja Kaludjercic, Festival Director at IFFR, said: “I am excited to be welcoming Clare to the IFFR team, and to Rotterdam as she makes this incredible city her new home. She brings a deep understanding of the artistic and commercial sides of a festival from her formidable career to date, which is perfectly suited to the dual leadership dynamic we have between our two roles. Her passion for IFFR is undeniable, and the team and I look forward to working together with her”. IFFR has a dual leadership structure where the pairing of the Managing Director and the Festival Director oversee the commercial and creative elements of the organisation respectively, but working closely in partnership. 

Source/image: IFFR

Tuesday 13 June 2023

Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire (Trip Jennings, 2022)

Narrated by iconic, award-winning actor David Oyelowo (Selma, Nightingale), and featuring interviews with Dr. Beverly Law, Professor Emeritus, Global Change Biology, Oregon State University; Margo Robbins, Yurok, Cultural Advisor; and Dr. Jack Cohen, Research Physical Scientist, US Forest Service (Ret.), Scientific Advisor, among others, Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire takes viewers on a journey with the top experts from across the nation to better understand wildfire. The film starts with the harrowing escape from Paradise, California, as the town ignited from wind-driven embers and burned within a few hours of the fire's start, and then continues to recent record-shattering fires.

Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire includes the voices of the top forest and climate experts, indigenous prescribed firelighters, and fire survivors, and helps reimagine our relationship with fire as we prepare for an increasingly hotter, drier future. “California is severely affected by these fires. I did not realise how much can be done by hardening one’s home. I did not realise that embers are more dangerous than the fires”, said David Oyelowo. “It was a huge honour and a pleasure to do this documentary; it is not only informational, I think it is lifesaving. I hope it will inspire you to take some of the steps advised, and some of the steps that I am taking myself”.

In the wake of the slew of deadly fires in Oregon and half a dozen other US states, the film is an important look at discovering how we can all reimagine our relationship with wildfire, and prepare to live with this powerful force. Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire is for everyone who wants to better understand the challenges wildfire poses and the solutions to keep our homes and communities safe. The film challenges conventional wisdom and superficial talking points, while providing a revealing historical view of how we got to where we are today. The film takes viewers into the field with indigenous fire managers and top fire and climate scientists to explore how wildfire, healthy forests and communities can coexist.

The Elemental: Reimagine Wildfire filmmaking team is led by director, co-writer and editor Trip Jennings (Rewilding A Mountain, Pebble Redux, Chuitna: More than Salmon on the Line) and Dutch executive producer/co-writer Ralph Bloemers (Trout On the Wind, Decades: Born in Fire); the film has been accepted into festivals in the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia, and is being booked in cinemas worldwide. The release is in collaboration with firefighting organizations, community fire wise groups, non-profits, schools, universities and businesses, including California Fire Safe Council, the American Red Cross, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Oregon State University, and many more.

Source: Polymath PR

Images: Green Oregon / Ralph Bloemers

Wednesday 7 June 2023

International Film Festival Rotterdam: RTM Pitch Winner

International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) and the municipality of Rotterdam have awarded a grant of €20,000 to the Rotterdam-based Lebanese visual artist and filmmaker Diana Al-Halabi for a short experimental film on food insecurity and migration. The project will receive expert guidance and aims to premiere at IFFR 2024 as part of the festival’s Rotterdam-focused programme, RTM. Vanja Kaludjercic, festival director, said: "This is the fourth project to be successfully funded through RTM Pitch, which has been crucial for bolstering the development of Rotterdam's vibrant film scene. The sell-out RTM Day at IFFR 2023 was electrifying—we can’t wait for the next one and for the premiere of Al-Halabi’s daring project".

The Battle of Empty Stomachs will present an absurdist fashion walk through the iconic Maastunnel in Rotterdam—a musical and poetic journey exploring themes of migration, exodus and hunger. The tunnel connects the north and south of Rotterdam, two sides of the city considered marked by class and cultural divisions, here becoming a symbol for water crossings in migration and the asylum-seeking process. Diana Al-Halabi pursues an interdisciplinary practice, with a focus on moving image, text, performance and painting. Her previous short, The Disaster Cannot Be Contained (pictured above), premiered at IFFR 2023 in the RTM programme, and drew on the artist’s connections to both Rotterdam and Beirut, where she examined the devastating port explosion in 2020.

The jury consisted of Fleur Knopperts (Volya Films), Ibtisam Harrak (Rose Stories Academy) and IFFR programmer Koen de Rooij. They said: "The jury was impressed by the strikingly unconventional way the film deals with the geopolitical problem of food distribution, an urgent subject that is rarely addressed in cinema". The €20,000 grant is financed by the municipality of Rotterdam as part of its film and media policy to encourage local film talent development. Previous winners have taken a cinematic approach to local stories, including port workers and Feyenoord supporters. At IFFR 2023, Ravi Sandberg presented the 2022 RTM Pitch-winner, Fantoomwijk: a ghostly investigation into the Tweebosbuurt in Rotterdam.

Source/image: IFFR

Thursday 1 June 2023

Three Nights a Week (Florent Gouëlou, 2022)

Florent Gouëlou's serviceable debut feature Three Nights a Week was selected to open the 2022 Venice Film Festival's Critics Week, a section that also included David Wagner's Eismayer, which, just like Gouëlou's film, focuses on a man who wishes to leave a heterosexual relationship for a homosexual one.  But unlike Wagner's film—which scooped the Grand Prize—Three Nights a Week was an out of competition title at Venice, and as such could enjoy its prestigious opening slot without the pressure that comes with vying for the spoils at one of the world's big three film festivals.  While there is little about Gouëlou's film that feels especially new, it is a well acted and handsomely photographed work, one that provides a generally engaging glimpse into the drag scene—a world the rookie director has firsthand experience of.  

Twentysomething Baptiste (Pablo Pauly) works as a manager at media retailer Fnac, but his real passion is photography.  Although the affable Baptiste and his long-term partner Samia (Hafsia Herzi) share a home, they see little of each other on account of their very different schedules; while Baptiste keeps regular working hours, Samia spends her nights volunteering at a sexual health clinic that provides help and advice to those on the city streets.  One evening, Baptiste tags along with Samia with the aim of taking a few pictures of the clinic's workers in action, and it is during this shift that he meets charismatic drag queen Cookie (Romain Eck).  Following this encounter, Baptiste is fascinated by both Cookie and the scene she inhabits, and he's inspired to undertake a photography project centring on this enticing nocturnal world.

As someone with no prior knowledge of drag, Baptiste is mesmerised by the performances served up by Cookie and her fellow artists.  Somewhat predictably, it isn't long before Baptiste's thoughts wander beyond the remit of his photography gig as he develops feelings for Cookie, which are reciprocated.  The fact that Baptiste is already in a relationship with Samia makes this arrangement less than ideal, and his situation is further complicated when the sun rises and Cookie changes into Quentin, the young man behind the drag act.  The confusion experienced by Baptiste forces him—and by extension the audience—to question who he's really attracted to: the person, or the persona?  Baptiste takes time off from his day job to document the progress of Cookie and her entourage as they travel to a competition that offers substantial prize money, and the dynamic between the photographer and Cookie/Quentin shifts further during this eventful road trip. 

Given Gouëlou's background as a drag artist, it should surprise no one to learn that Three Nights a Week feels like an authentic, warts-and-all representation of the scene on which it focuses.  So it is a pity that the story of Baptiste and Cookie plays out as something of a, er, cookie-cutter romance, and the convincing milieu created by Gouëlou is ill-served by a mostly rote script.  But Pauly and Eck are very good value in their roles, with both actors fully committed to depicting the tangled relationship that lies at the film's core, while the excellent Herzi—who has impressed in everything from Bertrand Bonello's House of Tolerance to Abdellatif Kechiche's Mektoub, My Love: Canto Uno—quietly steals the show as the jilted Samia.  Phil Connell's 2020 film Jump, Darling provided a more satisfying, less obvious exploration of the drag scene, but the uneven Three Nights a Week has enough about it to suggest better things to come from Florent Gouëlou.

Darren Arnold